All hell breaking loose seems the usual state of Italian calcio. But as the World Cup comes into view for the Azzurri -- Marcello Lippi announces his 23-man squad any minute now, which will make for another set of talking points -- it's up for debate. Instead of waiting till the knockout rounds to self-destruct, is Italy finished early this time around?
(UPDATE: Lippi names team, and there are no surprises.)
- Juventus general manager (Lucky) Luciano Moggi resigned after newspapers published wiretapped conversations in which he allegedly discussed fixing referee assignments in Juve's favour, discussed who should be on the national team, who should even receive yellow cards and bragged of locking referees into their change room to intimidate them. Moggi is to face questioning today in Rome.
- Juventus' board of directors resigned, along with the president of the Italian federation, which had its office raided by police.
- Prosecutors say four Serie A clubs are being investigated (Juve, Milan, Lazio and Fiorentina) and 41 people are being questioned in an investigation that centres on 19 Serie A matches from 2004-05, and one lower-league match.
- Juve's share value has plunged, and former prime minister/AC Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi wants the last two scudetto won by Juventus "returned" to (surprise) AC Milan.
- Juventus goalkeeper Gigi Buffon turned himself in for questioning amid reports he bet heavily on sports, although his lawyer says Buffon stopped last August when the practice was made illegal. As well, Italy's only referee for this World Cup, Massimo de Santis, had his accreditation pulled after he was implicated in the investigation.
It's the last bit that shakes the Azzurri. Buffon is the Italy No. 1, among the very best goalkeepers in the world, and for him to miss the World Cup would be a huge blow to a team regarded as one of the favourites.
Oh, and a few more odds and ends as the bilge oozes into the Azzurri change room:
Lippi has been forced publicly to deny claims that callups to the national side have been influenced by business interests. And the national team's captain, Fabio Cannavaro, has been implicated in further claims of skulduggery. Cannavaro is said to have deliberately underperformed at his former club, Inter, in order to facilitate a move to Juventus two years ago.
Italy's FA are rudderless after their top two officials were forced to stand down, and prosecutors in Rome and Naples are probing GEA World, the management company that handles more transfers in Italy than any other. GEA World is run by Alessandro Moggi, son of Luciano Moggi, the man at the centre of the investigation. Moggi senior quit as general manager of Juventus after being heavily implicated.
Bad as it all looks, these are still the phony-war days of the investigation. As for Italy, it would be unwise to toss them out of the World Cup picture. Paolo Rossi came back from a two-year suspension out of an earlier betting scandal to lead the Azzurri to the 1982 World Cup title.
But already the effects on this squad are being questioned, as Rob Hughes notes:
"It has nothing to do with the Azzurri," Marcelo Lippi, the coach who is due to name his World Cup squad on Monday, said, referring to the national team.
He must wish that were so. In Munich on Friday, Franz Beckenbauer, the president of the World Cup organizing committee, echoed Lippi's sentiment when he said: "It's a shame, but such a scandal was coming. It probably won't hit the Italian national team, who are one of the favorites most people would choose for this World Cup. But the players will have the distraction of being asked about the scandal. It could put a damper on team spirit, I hope it doesn't.
One of the milder comments made during the week of disclosure came from Francesco Totti, the captain of Rome and the potential play maker for Italy if Lippi is convinced his broken ankle and disrupted form has healed.
"Whoever did wrong must pay," said Totti. "We need to clean the whole thing up. As to names, I don't know them and I don't want to know."
Should both Totti and Buffon make the squad, "not knowing" will become a difficult exercise to sustain once players are encamped and in one another's company 24 hours a day."